Thinking Outside the Box in London's Parks
10.29.2014
Kenneth Allan in London, Open Spaces, Urban Planning

Can blank white cubes such as this one inspire businesses and others to rethink the role of parks? Image courtesy of Groundwork.

In 2011 Gensler research collaborated with the Urban Land Institute to identify the value of open spaces for both public and private sector activities. The resulting survey, Open Space: an Asset without a Champion?, revealed that private sector businesses would be willing to fund open space development if the right mechanism for investment was available and properly managed. The paper also identified the need for public and private sector entities to collaborate on creating, financing and maintaining open spaces. Open spaces are no longer the exclusive domain of governments and public funding. Private entities can benefit from the proliferation of open spaces and must therefore take an active role in advancing open space creation, management and development.

In an effort to build upon the initial survey, Gensler’s Work in the City initiative began exploring best practices for catalyzing open space development in urban areas. The goal: influence our surroundings by redeveloping forgotten or under used public or private spaces to create leasable and flexible working environments.

Image courtesy of Groundwork

With this as a background, the Rethinking Parks project, run by Nesta in partnership with the heritage lottery fund, explores new business models for parks in the United Kingdom. The project aims to plug public funding gaps that have resulted from government austerity. This of course creates an ideal testing ground for Gensler’s research to date. Hence, the Park Hack project, which concentrates on four spaces in Shoreditch, London’s tech and creative heart.

In partnership with Groundwork, Gensler London is exploring funding models linked to specific interventions in Charles Square, Mark Street Gardens, Hackney Road Rec and Hoxton Square. Each space currently provides the setting for a mysterious white cube, an intriguing initial public face of the program where members of the public and businesses alike can record their ideas for improving these spaces in words, doodles or drawings.

Image courtesy of Groundwork

In the first weekend, one cube was transformed into art, as a local artist provided the creative spark, while others provided the inevitable blank canvas for graffiti. However one park was completely re-planned in a drawing by an 11 year old boy!

I hope to see local enterprises engage nearby open spaces for the benefit of the surrounding communities. Playing an active role in pioneering business involvement in open space development is inspiring. It surfaces the passion people have for their surroundings and local green spaces, for which we all carry moral responsibility.

Peter Weingarten
Kenneth's work on projects as varied as large scale urban design and transport projects to small, inner city spaces and roof terraces helps him explore his passion for the design of public spaces in order to facilitate a wide range of uses for the enjoyment of the people who live and work in cities around the world. Contact him at Kenneth_allan@gensler.com.
Article originally appeared on architecture and design (http://www.gensleron.com/).
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